Excerpt from fall 2006 engineering commencement speech
Rear Admiral Jeffrey A. Brooks‘ top 10 pieces of advice for graduating engineers:
Engineering commencement address
Dec. 16, 2006
#10. Gain experience—catch your breath from the books and lectures and go out and experience life in the real world of engineering. You are ready—have confidence in the fact that you are well prepared to address the technical, economic and social challenges in today’s world. That eventual master’s degree and doctorate is great, but having practical experience on your resume is even more important.
#9. Take up golf. More business is done on the golf course than you can imagine. You don’t have to be a professional, but you need to be reasonably proficient. Take lessons and practice until you are. Consider it a social skill that will facilitate your upward mobility in the business world. Not only that, but it’s fun!
#8. You’ve been learning how to be number–crunching engineers. That’s good, and it’s a critical basis to your career. If you want to go to the top though, you need to also learn the business side of industry. The key thing to remember in industry is following the money. If you know how the money is obtained, handled, budgeted and moved, you can become a Captain of Industry. Without that knowledge you cannot. Think hard about eventually getting a business degree, or at a minimum, business experience. It’s important to expand your horizons beyond the purely technical domain into areas like business management, human resource management, economics and politics: forces that bear on your chosen line of work, community and environment. In short, having some perspective, balance and operational awareness about the world in which one exists always makes a professional more effective.
#7. Very few people can do everything well. Learn early how to recognize your limitations and how to surround yourself with those who can help you overcome them. President Ronald Reagan was known for his ability to do this. I believe he also indicated it was a good way to be able to occasionally catch a nap as well! A good leader surrounds himself or herself with a winning team.
#6. Importance of teamwork and working with our fellow humans in any endeavor. I think this is the fundamental reason organizations succeed—the effect of collaborative effort is multiplicative, not additive. The world’s most successful people by and large got there with the help and assistance of others. Such help and assistance should be reciprocated. That thought also pertains to home and family. Perhaps the most important near term decision for new college grads is finding the right life companion. It is one of those truly priceless elements of life, and in possibilities, ranges from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Spend more time on finding and nurturing the right match than on finding and snagging the right job. And job success is much more achievable with “wind beneath your wings” at home.
#5. Fix your sights on something that is of great importance to both you and to your community. If you apply the focus and energy, you will surely obtain the desired result over time. Like plowing a field or sailing a boat, having a distant, important reference point is much more important than looking at the furrow behind you or steering by the wake. Maintain a fairly specific plan of action for two years into the future that always moves toward the distant, important and worthwhile goal. Have a life purpose that aligns with your needs and the needs of your family, recognizing that there is no one right answer to optimizing the multidimensional challenge ahead of you. Care about others. Care about something important. Make a difference.
#4. Value humility, starting with the man or woman in the mirror. Listen more and talk less. There is no “I” in “team”! Don’t expect to order up a corner office like going through the line at McDonald’s. Avoid individual, personal and peripheral crusades as mostly not value added. Also: Remember your roots. Live like your mother and father and spouse are always with you. If nothing else, your kids will always be watching and learning from you—and, scary thought, they will grow up to be so much like you.
#3. Hard work and long hours are always recognized. Seek hard jobs. That said, make time for fun and family. At retirement, 40 years from now, you will have few regrets that involve either spending more time at work or writing more letters to the editor. You will regret having never seen the Eiffel Tower in Paris and having never run a marathon.
#2. Continuous improvement applies to individuals. Seek additional qualifications. Take the EIT. Become a registered professional engineer. Join professional organizations. Read. Sharpen the saw. Attend seminars. Participate. Ask questions and challenge the status quo. Be a volunteer. Be expert in something, but try to understand the interaction of the many systems that comprise the big picture. Know how to connect the dots, fitting all the pieces together to find solutions.
#1. Be an engineer of character. I can’t stress this enough. Character is about ethical behavior, integrity and honesty. In the Navy, we call it “Honor, Courage and Commitment.” It is the foundation of an engineer’s personal and professional credibility. As you enter the work force, you will be responsible for first establishing your credibility and then building upon it. A character flaw will cause your credibility to erode instantaneously and you may never regain it. Additionally, be honest and dependable—always. The truthful never have to remember what they said. When you agree to do something, do it—even if it ultimately involves a major inconvenience to you. In today’s demanding job environment, the person that can be depended upon by his supervisor to quietly and effectively go about work is greatly appreciated and greatly valued.
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